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পরিবর্তিত বার্মা : Geoffrey Hillerএর ক্যামেরায় চিত্রনিবন্ধ

October 9, 2013

Hypnotic Photos Capture The Changing Face Of Burma

Portland based photographer Geoffrey Hiller first journeyed through Burma in 1987, and was immediately riveted by the strangers he encountered there.

“After a frenetic trip, it wasn’t so much the monks and pagodas that haunted me, but the faces of the Burmese, painted in white, often smiling,” he wrote in an email to the Huffington Post. “I wanted to find out more about who they really were, plagued by a corrupt and isolationist military dictatorship.”


Hiller returned to the complex country in 2000, anxious to see how the 1988 uprising had affected the lives and freedoms of the Burmese people. With camera in tow, he woke up everyday before sunrise to capture the visions he encountered, compiling them on a multimedia website, “Burma: Grace Under Pressure.”In 3000 photos, Hiller shares the experience of his long-awaited return, capturing everything from pick-up trucks jam-packed with passengers to Buddhist prayer sessions drenched in color and light.

“I have relationships with my subjects, but they’re brief encounters, fleeting moments,” Hiller explained. “Sometimes it’s simply making eye contact with someone seconds before I press the shutter. In other cases, depending on circumstances, and it’s usually fortuitous, we might strike up a short conversation, even after the photograph. Finally there are times when I sit down and interview people before I take their picture.”


Now Hiller is turning his online treasure trove into a tangible archive, taking the form of a photography book entitled “Burma in Transition.” He is currently raising funds for the compelling visual journey on Kickstarter, aiming to collect over $16,000 to self-publish the work by April 2014. He has already recruited Burmese human right activists and former political prisoner, Dr. Ma Thida, and journalist Francis Wade to contribute to the book. Their essays will provide context for the array of images, bringing Hiller’s street photography into perspective.

“Change has come slowly to Myanmar/Burma these past 25 years,” Hiller stated. “From being isolated and one of the last frontiers, we can see more new automobiles, cell phones, building construction, at least in Yangon. These are all part of the relaxed censorship and opening to foreign countries. A flow of communication is occurring that was impossible before.”

Take an abridged trip through Burma’s recent history below and visit the Kickstarter page to learn more. The campaign ends at midnight on Wednesday, October 9.


Nat Spirits Altar, Mandalay 1987


Novice Monk Initiation Ceremony, Bagan 1987


Bagan 1987


Novice Monks Initiation Bagan 1987


Shewdagon Pagoda, Yangon 2000


Yangon 2000


Mandalay 2000


Bago 2000


Old Yangon 2012


Fish Market Yangon 2013


Monywa 2013

  1. বার্মা যদি ব্যাপারটাকে এভাবে দেখে বাংলাভাষী রোহিঙ্গারা বাঙালি, রাখাইনরা রাখাইন, শানরা শান, বর্মনরা বর্মন এবং এরা সবাই বার্মার নাগরিক তাতে আমার কোনোই আপত্তি নেই বরং শক্ত সমর্থন আছে, এবং বলার আছে বাংলাদেশও বার্মাকে অনুসরণ করুক বাঙালিরা বাঙালি, চাকমারা চাকমা, গারোরা গারো হয়েই বাংলাদেশের নাগরিক হোক। তামিলরা তামিল হয়ে বাঙালিরা বাঙালি হয়ে ভারতীয় হোক। জাতিরাষ্ট্র বিদায় নিক এশিয়ার এই দরিদ্র অঞ্চলটায় জনজাতি রাষ্ট্রের পত্তন হোক।

  2. Libraries in limbo
    A decree enacted in 1964 has been an obstacle to the efficient management of the nation’s libraries, but that may be about to change.

    WHEN U KYAW HSAN was nearing the end of his decade as information minister in 2012 he proudly liked telling anyone listening that the ministry had established 50,000 libraries under his tenure.

    But not all of them functioned effectively as knowledge banks.

    A survey published in 2014 by the Asia Foundation and the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation said that of the nation’s 55,755 registered public libraries, only 4,868 – or less than 10 percent – were considered active.

    One of the biggest obstacles to a flourishing network of libraries is the 1964 Library, Museum and Exhibition Monitoring Law enacted under the dictatorship of General Ne Win.

    The law prohibits the performance of exhibitions at private libraries and museums, and its provisions include a ban on public gatherings near libraries, museums or memorial structures without a permit.

    The law is one of many used as a weapon to stifle expression, and to arrest artists and and political activists throughout Myanmar’s modern history. The law remains in force and was used to charge performance artists who conducted a show in Mandalay as recently as May 2012. The group, which comprised of artists from Myanmar and abroad, were briefly detained before being released.

    Myanmar Library Association chairman U Than Aung said the intention of the law was to curb libraries operated under the aegis of diplomatic missions, such as the British Council, American Center and Indian embassy libraries.

    “Despite the law’s intention, it affected only private libraries and community libraries; it was the beginning of the end for them,” he told Frontier.

    The association, established in 1994 by prominent librarian and historian U Thaw Kaung, faced countless problems when it tried to promote library management.

    The remit of the 1964 law was broad and it had weaknesses in respect of library management, which is a reason why the nation’s public, community, school and private libraries, operated by a range of institutions, lack standardisation.

    As an example, the National Library is under the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, school libraries are the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, and public libraries are under the Ministry of Information.

    Than Aung recalled that when U Khin Nyunt was prime minister he wanted all libraries to be under the Ministry of Information and had proposed the idea at a meeting with well-known authors.

    However, critics argued against such a move. Most notable of who was prominent writer Tike Soe who said that many of the ancient scripts still in existence in Myanmar today should not be under the control of one ministry, and should instead be overseen by a body that is independent from the government.

    Before the 2008 Constitution was enacted, all libraries were subject to the libraries law, but under Schedule Two of the charter, states and regions were given the right to manage libraries and museums and some, including Yangon, Mandalay and Sagaing, drafted laws based on the 1964 law.

    However, the situation is complicated because the constitution also gives the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw the right to enact matters listed in Schedule One, which includes the management of libraries and museums.

    Under the 1964 law, anyone who opens an unregistered library is liable to a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of K2,000. The law also gave authority to a notorious “registration committee”, which operated when the country was under military rule and was renowned for shutting down museums, exhibitions and conferences that were not to the junta’s taste.

    The Sagaing Hluttaw approved a Library Law under the U Thein Sein administration, which was under the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party, and the law was amended again in December 2017, by a parliament dominated by the National League for Democracy.

    “We can remove many improper sections and make many changes, especially for the development of public libraries and community libraries,” said regional MP Dr Kyaw Zay Linn (NLD, Budalin-2).

    There were about 6,000 public libraries in Sagaing under the Ministry of Information but only about 600 were functioning, he told Frontier.

    “Almost all of them [public libraries] are just for show, but now our new law can encourage the use of libraries in the future,” Kyaw Zay Linn said.

    Although the monitoring law imposed restrictions on libraries it provided no funding, unlike the legislation passed by the Sagaing Hluttaw, which supports government funding for libraries as long as they are registered.

    Although many private libraries advocate strongly for abolishing the onerous registration provisions enforced under the military junta, some academics and experienced librarians favour requiring libraries to be registered, because they say that makes them better organised.

    In July 2017, the 20-member Kayah Hluttaw also enacted a library law, without any debate.

    “As we have very few MPs in the assembly and almost all of them are already in committees, many of the drafts don’t need to be debated when it is in session,” said state lawmaker U Yan Naing Swe (NLD, Hpasawng-2).

    The by-laws for the Sagaing and Kayah library laws are pending.

    Than Aung said it was clear that a new law was needed to support the establishment and development of libraries. Meanwhile, there is still a debate among Myanmar’s librarian community as to whether the National Library should be monitored under a bill that is separate to a library law that oversees the rest of the libraries in the country.

    National Library director Dr Kay Thi Htwe told Frontier that she understood the release of a draft National Library Law was imminent, but was still waiting on some approvals.

    Kay Thi Htwe said private, school, public and community libraries were not directly affected by the proposed National Library Law.

    The draft National Library Law was prepared by the Department of Museums and Libraries under the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture. The department hopes that the law, which was drafted by the ministry, will be approved soon by the Hluttaw.

    Kay Htwe said that as all libraries used their own classification systems, there was no standard categorisation such as the International Standard Book Number, or ISBN.

    “We [National Library] can do that; we’d like to standardise all libraries across the country,” she said.

    In August 2016, the government approved a Yangon Heritage Trust proposal to relocate the National Library from Yangon’s Yankin Township to the former Burmah Oil Company headquarters in downtown Merchant Street.

    Kay Thi Htwe said the new site is being prepared by the National Library with the assistance of the YHT.

    “YHT is involved as a member of a relocation group, a renovation group and a domestic and international relation group,” Ma Noe Noe Aung, spokesperson of YHT, told Frontier.

    The relocation of the National Library is due to be completed by the end of 2019 but it remains uncertain when the law will be enacted.

    Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information, Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation, Washington-based education NGO International Research & Exchanges Board, and members of the library community are promoting a master plan aimed at modernising the nation’s 6,500 libraries.

    “The master plan is a substitute for the library law. As we could not previously persuade the authorities to enact a Union-level library law, we though that this master plan would help to modernise libraries,” said Than Aung.

    The ministry’s Information and Public Relations Department manages 414 public libraries and another 6,648 community libraries are run by local organisations.

    “For the most part, libraries are now having trouble meeting the demands of a changing society,” says the master plan, submitted to the Minister for Information, U Pe Myint, in March 2017. “Libraries have not been re-envisioned in law in the last 50 years,” it says. “Librarians’ skills haven’t kept up with the information age and there is no system in place to help them adjust,” it adds.

    Than Aung said the association had learned that Pe Myint had later passed on the master plan to the chief editor of Sarpay Beikman, a powerful publishing organisation.

    “We don’t know what’s going on; we’ve heard nothing. That’s just the master plan, so we know nothing about the library law,” he said.

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